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NATO Combats Afghan Deployment Cracks

Author: Greg Bruno
September 19, 2007


Opposition leaders in Germany are calling for an end to military involvement (IHT) in Afghanistan. Mounting combat casualties have party leaders in Canada also urging a pullout (TheStar). In the Netherlands, too, lawmakers are mulling a drawdown, frustrated over Dutch forces’ disproportionate share of combat missions in an increasingly restive (AP) south. Should the three countries withdraw, experts say, it would significantly hinder peacekeeping and redevelopment efforts in the war-ravaged country nearly six years after the ouster of the Taliban leadership. Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands are among the top suppliers of soldiers to the alliance, which combined account for 6,800 of NATO’s 39,000 troops (PDF) in the country. The only larger troop contributors are the United States—the single largest with fifteen-thousand troops—and Italy and Britain, which also face domestic pressures to withdraw. “If Afghanistan is NATO’s most important mission, countries should deliver what they promise (IHT),” says NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

NATO’s Afghan deployment—the largest-ever for the North-Atlantic alliance and its first mission outside Europe—has become a test case for voluntary international military operations. Some see it as the most significant challenge to NATO in the alliance’s fifty-eight year history. Barnett R. Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says NATO and the U.S. must find “successful political consolidation” to win the support of the Afghan population. Helle C. Dale of the Heritage Foundation says to succeed in Afghanistan NATO should seek to expand its troop and funding levels and consider “another round of enlargement.”

But despite appeals for more troop contributions, only eight-thousand soldiers were added to NATO forces in the past year (PDF). A recent NATO fact-finding mission concluded the alliance “still suffers from a lack of personnel and assets” and is unable “hold a cleared area after a successful operation.” A July 2007 Congressional Research Service report points to disagreement over how the International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, should restore order and redevelop a country ravaged by resilient narcotics trade (PDF). Some NATO countries oppose combat missions, leaving countries fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda—like the Netherlands—resentful of NATO’s inability to increase military support. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who seeks to persuade a skeptical public that German forces must remain in northern Afghanistan, has so far resisted NATO pleas to send forces (IHT) to the south.

At the same time, there are signs NATO has contributed to progress in Afghanistan. A 2007 NATO report cites encouraging economic, democratic, and infrastructure gains since the Taliban’s fall. Merkel noted these successes in warning against a withdrawal of German troops. “There is no alternative,” she said in a recent speech (Deutsche-Welle). “We must not leave Afghanistan to the terrorists again.” Yet significant hurdles to an effective NATO presence remain. Kurt Volker, deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. State Department, questions whether NATO’s force is big enough to produce real gains. Others say Afghanistan poses a test to U.S. leadership of the alliance. In particular, writes one Congressional Research Service analyst, some allies want the United States to “provide leadership and resources to counter the destabilizing influences upon Afghanistan of two neighboring states, Iran and Pakistan.”

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